Category archives for: Rwanda

Hotel Operators Appeal for Lower Interest Rates

Photo: The New Times

Marriott Hotel in Kigali.

By Eddie Nsabimana

Banks’ high interest rate on loans is fast becoming a threat to tourism sector operators, industry players have said.

With local commercial banks charging between 17 per cent and 24 per cent in interest on the loans provided to operators in the sector, hoteliers say that it is too high given the returns in the industry.

Odette Nyiramongi, from Paradise Hotel in Rubavu District, said that the costs are quite high and pay back period short.

“The banks are demanding too much interest on the loans offered to hotel business operators and are not willing to provide it on long-term basis while this business takes long,” she explained.

The concerns by the private sector operators were raised during a CEOs Forum held in Kigali Friday.

It came at a time when the sector is setting out towards achieving revenue targets of $800 by 2024.

Rwanda Development Board’s chief executive Clare Akamanzi assured operators that the government will continue to improve operating conditions in the sector.

Akamanzi promised sector players that discussions will be held on the possibility of lower interest rates.

“We want the tourism sector to become more attractive and need to understand key areas where we need to put more efforts,” she said.

She added that if local commercial banks are not willing to provide long-term loans, the government could look into the possibility of connecting them to foreign banks which can give them long-term loans.

Confusions on loan charges?

Monique Nsanzabaganwa, the central bank vice governor, said that some charges are exercised in compliance with some clauses in loan application forms, cautioning business operators to be careful with such contracts.

“Some clauses are ignored and misunderstood due to language used or the loan applicant’s lack of attention. But it is the client’s right to ask for a loan application form in a language they understand to avoid such misunderstandings,” Nsanzabaganwa said.

The CEOs Forum is organised every year since 2016, and brings together different private business operators to discuss with the government how the business sector can progress to the level of significantly benefiting the sector players and the country at large.

Rwanda

Rwigaras Bail Hearing Finally Begins

The Nyarugenge Intermediate Court on Monday begun pre-trial hearings for three members of the Rwigara family. Read more »

Rwigaras Bail Hearing Finally Begins

Photo: Cyril Ndegeya/The East African

Members of the late Kigali tycoon Assinapol Rwigara’s family when they were taken in for questioning by Rwanda police on September 4, 2017 at their residence in Kiyovu.

The Nyarugenge Intermediate Court on Monday begun pre-trial hearings for three members of the Rwigara family.

The hearing had been postponed on four different occasions.

Mrs. Adeline Rwigara and her two daughters Anne and Diane Rwigara are jointly facing charges related to inciting insurrection.

Diane faces separate forgery charges and her mother divisionism and discrimination charges.

Before the proceedings could begin, the defendants’ lawyers Gatera Gashabana and Pierre-Célestin Buhuru argued that the case should not be heard at Nyamirambo based as it was outside the area of jurisdiction.

The lawyers cited a law that requires defendants to be tried in a court closest to where they were arrested. They then requested their release.

After consultation the panel of judges concluded that it was within their jurisdiction to the try the Rwigaras, and ordered the proceedings to go on.

As part of evidence pinning the Rwigaras, the prosecution presented Whatsapp audio files some of which were heard by the court.

The court also heard that due to security reasons some audios should be played in camera and some witness names not disclosed

A series of 12 audios were then played in open court.

The court heard that some of the people involved in the conversations are wanted by the prosecution as part of investigations into the case.

They cited Thabitha Gwiza Mugenzi believed to be in Canada, Xaverine Mukangarambe and Jean Paul Tuyishimire in the US and a one Edmond Mushayija who said to be in Belgium.

Prosecution says that in their conversations with the Rwigaras mainly Adeline; they propagated hate and intended to incite public insurrection.

In regards to the forgery-related charges faced by Diane, the court heard that the suspect, during the August Presidential elections, forged signatures in an attempt to meet the nomination criteria required the National Electoral Commission (NEC).

Prosecution told court they have interrogated more than 70 people who denied lending their signatures in support of her candidacy.

Diane is also alleged to have included dead people among her signatories.

The defendants denied all charges.

After a nearly eight hour court session, the presiding judge adjourned the Court to Wednesday.

Rwanda

Police in New Drive to End Teenage Pregnancy

Child marriage is a serious violation of human rights and the Rwanda society should be aware of the peril caused by… Read more »

Police in New Drive to End Teenage Pregnancy

Photo: The Citizen

(file photo).

Child marriage is a serious violation of human rights and the Rwanda society should be aware of the peril caused by underage pregnancies, especially to the future of juveniles.

Police say concerted actions will further ensure that abuses of minors are combated and perpetuators brought to justice, to prevent “possible threat to national development.”

Police in different parts of the country delivered the message as part of a nationwide campaign to tackle teenage pregnancy.

It is in line with a two-month national campaign launched by First Lady Jeannette Kagame, last week, on ‘Governance and Family Promotion,’ when she called upon all stakeholders to join efforts to curb child abuse such as child pregnancies and teenage marriages.

According to the 2014/15 Rwanda Demographic Health Survey, 7 per cent of women become pregnant between the ages of 15 and 19.

Early (women age 15-19) childbearing occurs more frequently among young women with a primary education (9 per cent) than among those with a secondary education or higher (4 per cent).

Under Article 194 of the Penal Code, any person who lives with a child as husband or wife is liable to the same penalty meted out on convicts of defilement, which is a life sentence.

Adults warned

Alexandre Minani, an inspector of police, while speaking to students of Gitebe, Muringa and Rubare secondary schools, reminded them of their rights, and warned that “adults responsible for having carnal knowledge with minors will be prosecuted accordingly.”

“Teen pregnancy is a serious issue and a violation of your rights; marriage is only allowed at the age of 21 and above. Early marriages and pregnancy are health risks both to the underaged mother and the baby… it’s an economic and social issue that you should stand up against and report it,” Minani told the students.

The World Health Organisation reports indicate that maternal deaths are higher in teenage mothers compared to older women.

“Many children of teenage mothers are unable to get education and they are likely to fall into poverty, creating a vicious cycle of early pregnancies, illiteracy and poverty, which can be hard to break,” he said.

Similar awareness programmes in schools were also held in Ecole Technique de Formation Professionnelle (ETEFOP) and Musanze Integrated Polytechnic College (MIPC).

During the interface, students also established anti-crime clubs. Teachers were urged to support and facilitate the clubs to achieve their intended agenda.

Rwanda

Rwigaras Bail Hearing Finally Begins

The Nyarugenge Intermediate Court on Monday begun pre-trial hearings for three members of the Rwigara family. Read more »

Environment Museum Gets New Artifact

Photo: Jean d’Amour Mbonyinshuti/ New Times

Minister Julienne Uwacu (R) and other officials tour the museum during the launch of new artifact.

By Jean d’Amour Mbonyinshuti

VISITORS to Karongi-based Museum of Environment stand to enjoy more artifact following the introduction of new wares.

The new items on the list include zoological, botanical, minerals items brought in from the natural history museum (Kandt House), the home of a former German colonialist in Rwanda, and believed to be the first modern house in Kigali.

The museum also houses volcanic information, natural evolution of universe and has a rich botanical garden located on the roof of the museum’s building. It also has a book reading corner (Uruhongore) where kids are welcomed to read mostly Rwandan history.

Initially, the museum’s exhibition was mainly composed of data related to non-renewable and renewable sources of energy illustrated through texts, photos and films.

This, according to officials, caused a gap in relation to various themes of environment that could attract more tourists, thus making upgrades a necessity to fill the gap.

The Museum of Environment is located on the shores of Lake Kivu in Bwishyura Sector, Karongi District in Western Province.

Speaking at the launch of the new exhibitions on Friday, Julienne Uwacu, the minister for sports and culture, said the move was part of a wider plan to revamp country’s museums in order to create a niche for each of the eight national museums.

The objects that were relocated are minerals, volcanic and sediments, metamorphic rocks, hydrology parts, types of soils in Rwanda, meteorites and non-living animals.

The relocation was completed earlier last month making the environment museum equipped enough to attract tourists with keen interest in environment.

“It is better to have a museum of environment equipped with biological elements, nature of soil, minerals and animals so that visitors can see a broader image of not only Rwanda’s environment but global aspects as well,” Uwacu said.

She said she was optimistic the museum will attract more tourists, including foreigners, given its rich diversity after new artifacts were brought in.

Currently, annual tourists to various museums in the country stand at 20,000.

“This is a new museum, a 2-year-old museum and one of the youngest in the world. Previously, it did not have enough features to attract tourists, now I encourage tourists, starting with locals, to visit this museum as they will be able to understand the historical heritage of the country as well as the world,” she said.

With construction of Kivu belt road complete, access to the museum will be eased, thus boosting tourists, Uwacu noted.

Since May 2016, the Institute of National Museums of Rwanda has been reviewing the exhibition of the Museum of Environment.

André Ndabaga, the museum manager, said they will do their best to encourage local tourists visit the museum and benefit from it.

Currently, the museum attracts only about 3,000 tourists per year, the majority of them foreigners, he said.

Foreigners pay Rwf6,000 and Rwf5,000 if they work in Rwanda, while nationals are required to pay Rwf1,500 (adults). Children and students, from primary school up to masters level, pay Rwf700.

When children or students come in a group, they pay Rwf500 each.

The museum was built to educate people about the environment and avoid duplication with the former Natural History Museum in Kigali.

75 to Launch Fresh Lawsuit Against DN International

By Eugene Kwibuka

At least 75 people who formerly delivered supplies or bought homes from the defunct DN International estate developer are preparing to launch a fresh lawsuit against the realtor in a case that has drawn in Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) and the Rwanda Development Board (RDB).

The lead petitioner, Francis Bayingana, told The New Times last week that it’s unfair for KCB to take over the land that was used as collateral in the Green Park Villas housing project in Kigali’s Rusororo area after DN International failed to complete the construction works.

The petitioner says the realtor will be sued as part of last ditch efforts to help those who supplied construction materials or made downpayments for housing units to recover their money by selling the land on which the homes were to be erected.

Bayingana said they are suing for over Rwf780 million as the realtor failed to deliver the promised homes and didn’t bother to pay critical suppliers of materials and services, from security guards to iron sheet and cement providers.

“If all goes well, we will be in court by next month,” Bayingana said, adding that the petitioners were working with lawyers to file the case as soon as possible.

“What we are requesting for is to regain our right. We want the remaining assets in the project to be brought back to DN International so we can claim them,” he added.

The petitioners are demanding payment for investments made on the development of one of the realtor’s housing project (Green Park Villas) in Gasabo District, which was incomplete when the scandal-hit DN International failed to operate, forcing the owner, Nathan Lloyd, to flee the country in 2011.

How issues arose

When the company folded, as a financier of the project, KCB seized the incomplete estate in an effort to recover over a Rwf1.5-billion loan it was owed. But the bank did not take care of paying those who supplied construction materials or the prospective home owners who had made down payment on the houses.

Bayingana said KCB, which took over the project as it now owns the land on which the incomplete homes were built, should be in position to shoulder the pending liabilities.

George Odhiambo, the acting managing director of KCB Rwanda, said the bank has always been willing to reach an agreement with mortgage investors with supporting evidences of payment through DN International bank account in KCB.

“Regarding DN International suppliers, KCB has previously advised suppliers to register their claims with the appointed liquidator who is coordinating the recovery effort from DN International assets and who will provide further instructions/guidance,” he told The New Times by email.

Meanwhile, the Lower House, acting on a petition from DN International suppliers, has embarked on analysing the issue surrounding Green Park Villas project.

The parliamentary Standing Committee on Economy and Trade has so far consulted different stakeholders on the issue, including KCB as a financier, petitioners themselves, as well as Rwanda Development Board, which had licensed DN International.

The committee is expected to table a report of their analysis of the issue in the chamber’s plenary session with hopes that the House will draw conclusive recommendations on how to help petitioners regain their rights.

Rwanda

Rwigaras Bail Hearing Finally Begins

The Nyarugenge Intermediate Court on Monday begun pre-trial hearings for three members of the Rwigara family. Read more »

Call for Mashariki Film Festival Submissions

By Moses Opobo

After three successful runs, the annual Mashariki African Film Festival is back for its fourth edition. The week-long festival will run from March 25 th to 31st, 2018 at a yet-to-be-identified venue in Kigali.

Submissions of film entries for the festival opened in Kigali on Monday October 16, according to a statement from organizers. Submissions are free for all eligible filmmakers, both local and international.

The submissions are grouped under two categories; In Competition, which is open to all African filmmakers, and the Out Competition, which is open to filmmakers worldwide.

Under the In Competition category, film entries will be grouped under six sub categories;

Best African feature fiction; Best African Short; Best African Documentary; Best East African Short; Best East African Documentary, and Best Rwandan shorts (fiction, documentary and promising cinematographer).

In the Out Competition category, entries will be grouped under two sub categories;

Short (fictions and Documentaries of 52 minutes or less, and Feature length (fictions and Documentaries of 52 minutes or more.

Only films directed by an African filmmaker, and whose storyline relates to Africa are eligible for selection. The films must be in English or have English/French subtitles, and must have not been completed before 2016. Films submitted in previous editions of the Mashariki African Film Festival are not eligible to apply.

Film entries can be submitted either by Vimeo Link or a set of DVDs.

The deadline for submission of film entries and submission forms is December 16, 2017. Selected Films will be announced not later than January31, 2018.

Rwanda

Rwigaras Bail Hearing Finally Begins

The Nyarugenge Intermediate Court on Monday begun pre-trial hearings for three members of the Rwigara family. Read more »

Local Enterprise Wages War on Dirty Floors With an Alternative to Cement

By Emmanuel Ntirenganya

When Gayatri Datar started social enterprise, EarthEnable, to provide locally sourced ‘healthy’ clay floors as alternative to cement, she did not expect it to catch global attention.

The floors are 75 per cent less expensive, and produce 90 per cent fewer emissions, than cement. The floors are sealed using a plant-based oil.

Fastforward and that invention recently won the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge 2017 that came with €500,000 (about Rwf500 million) in prize money.

The floors are credited for making homes or communities healthier through eliminating health problems caused by dirt floors, such as childhood asthma, diarrhea, malnutrition, and parasitic infestations.

The award ceremony took place in the Dutch city of Amsterdam on September 14.

Postcode Lottery Green Challenge, one of the world’s largest competitions in the field of sustainable entrepreneurship, reported that “during the finale, co-founder Gayatri Datar impressed the international jury with her sustainable alternative for cement to replace dirt floors.”

It beat a total of 515 entries from all over the world, including countries like France, Denmark and The Netherlands.

The competing companies include those engaged in innovations for solar powered car, clean energy, and waste recycling.

More than a billion people still live on sandy floors, which are often a breeding ground for parasites and germs, according to the Challenge.

Datar, the EarthEnable chief executive and co-founder, told The New Times about the enterprise’s activities, how they are impacting lives and what it envisions in the future.

Below are the excerpts:

EarthEnable has won €500,000 in Postcode Lottery Green Challenge 2017; what made you stand out among all the contestants and scoop such a prize?

The finalists for the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge were an incredibly impressive group, so it was a great honour to be chosen as the 2017 winner. We believe that EarthEnable stood out for two reasons.

First, the problem of dirt floors globally is enormous. There is tremendous potential for our healthy and sustainable flooring to make a difference in the health of people across the world, and in the health of our planet. Second, we have a deeply passionate and hardworking team who have already sold over 2,000 floors in just a few years, with ambitions to eliminate dirt floors globally. We believe the jury saw our impact potential and our team’s passion to execute this potential.

What does such award mean to your activities?

This award will catapult our impact. The Green Challenge is on a global platform, which means that EarthEnable’s work in Rwanda has been seen across the world. Given that EarthEnable is committed to eliminating dirt floors everywhere, we have been thrilled to receive interest from potential partners in other countries who will be able to replicate our success in Rwanda.

The award will also enable us to invest in innovation to make our floors even more affordable and durable. The result will be that more families will have access to healthy and affordable floors.

What is the rationale for starting activities in Rwanda; what problem did it want to solve?

We started in Rwanda largely due to its strong investment climate and ease of doing business. We have been grateful for the support of local and national government in supporting our company’s development, and were able to grow quickly as a result.

We are trying to solve a serious problem: according to the 2014 Demographic and Health Survey in Rwanda, 74.7 per cent of Rwandans live on dirt floors. Dirt floors are a major cause of diarrhoea, parasitic infection, respiratory disease, and anemia. Therefore, EarthEnable’s mission is to improve health and wellbeing by offering affordable and quality floors.

Concrete flooring – the cheapest alternative – is not affordable to over two million families. Concrete floors are not only too expensive, but also environmentally unsustainable. Cement is responsible for over 5 per cent of global carbon emissions.

EarthEnable provides an alternative to dirt floors and concrete: They are made by hand with a mixture of compressed earthen materials – laterite, sand, clay – and are then sealed with proprietary oil that turns to a plastic-like resin when it dries.

EarthEnable floors cost Rwf50,000 for a 20 square metre home, and our floors have an estimated 90 per cent less embedded energy than concrete floors. Our business enables Rwanda to shift to proven, affordable, and green construction technologies while improving health. This innovation could eliminate dirt floors in Rwanda and beyond.

What does EarthEnable’s work in Rwanda entail and how is it impacting lives of communities?

EarthEnable started in Rwanda a little over three years ago. Currently we work in four districts – Bugesera, Rwamagana, Kayonza, and Kamonyi – where we educate communities about our floors, train local masons in the building technique, source materials, and produce our proprietary varnish.

Since our founding, we have built about 65,000 square metres of flooring for over 2,000 households, improving health of nearly 10,000 people.

Replacing dirt floors with a clean floor leads to significant health improvements for the families living on these floors.

Improved health not only improves quality of life, but also can have long-term impacts on learning and income. Reduced illness means that children miss less school, and adults miss work less often. Additionally, better health means less money spent on healthcare and medicine, so families are able to save money for other purposes.

Considering the size of the company, how big is it now (how many workers does it employ, the investment so far made, the equipment used … )?

Across Rwanda and Uganda, EarthEnable employs roughly 140 people, and also works with an additional 100 masons whom we have trained in our building technique. Of these, approximately 125 employees and 95 masons are based in Rwanda. EarthEnable has headquarters in Nyamata, as well as offices in Rwamagana, Kayonza, and Kamonyi.

What are the future plans?

EarthEnable envisions a world where no child has to grow up on a dirt floor, allowing everyone to lead a healthier life, and in a home they are proud of. We hope to extend our services across Rwanda, and then globally. We believe in continuous innovation and learning from others, and our team is always working to make our products and service better. As we expand, we plan to build our team to take on the ever greater opportunities and exciting challenges that come with expansion.

Meet Mukayiranga, Rusizi’s Inspirational Fisherwoman

Photo: Timothy Kisambira/New Times

Claudine Mukayiranga on Lake Kivu to check on her nets.

opinionBy Peterson Tumwebaze

As the sun slowly goes down over the hills of Rusizi District, Claudine Mukayiranga and her crew are busy checking their fishing gear in readiness for expedition on Lake Kivu. This is a daily routine the fisher woman goes through as she prepares for a night out on the high waters to catch fish for the following day’s supply to customers. Mukayiranga has been fishing on Lake Kivu for more than two decades.

“I am able to face any challenges and dangers on the lake because I am passionate about fishing. This is what gives me the courage to get my gear and spend hours on the lake looking for fish every day,” she says.

It’s from fishing that the business woman is able to look after her family and also put aside some savings to cater for any emergencies in the future.

Starting out

The mother of four surprised many when she chose to join fishing that was previously thought to be an activity for men. That was over 20 years ago, after Mukayiranga lost her husband who was a fisherman.

Left with no one to care for the family, she decided to brave the cold nights on the lake as the family’s wellbeing depended solely on fishing. The resident of Nkombo Island was well aware that she had no other choice but following in her deceased husband’s footsteps to earn a living and escape poverty.

The fisher sets the fishing nets at night fall and wakes up at 5.00am to check on catch.

“It is a daunting task… Sometimes I stay awake and worried throughout the night because this vocation is unpredictable,” Mukayiranga narrates as she shares her experience with Business Times.

She ignored the advice of those that tried to dissuade her from becoming a fisherwoman. “Many people, especially women, were surprised by my decision because they never imagined a woman doing this kind of work,” she adds.

“It is difficult, but I had to tap into the opportunities offered by the lake to survive.

All I needed was confidence and courage. Besides, fishing is like any other business and a source of livelihood,” she says.

In addition, it does not require a lot of start-up capital. She also took advantage of the gear left by her late husband and support from her husband’s friend, who taught and guided her during the initial stages. “He was ready to show me the ‘tricks’ of the trade and how best to conduct the business, which gave me more confidence as time went on,” Mukayiranga explained.

Market

Mukayiranga sells most of her catch to residents of Rusizi, while some fish is taken to Bukavu in the DR Congo. She has been able to give her family a decent life, thanks to returns from fishing.

She sells silver fish and other types, earning about Rwf500,000 per month.

Challenges

Competition is one of the main challenges Mukayiranga faces. She is also worried by the dwindling fish stocks and use of illegal fishing gears by unscrupulous fishermen. Climate change is also having a toll on the sector as the lake recedes, which affects breeding grounds and fish multiplication, leading to low stocks.

More so, pollution of the water by foreign materials, including excessive erosion, and farming on the lake shores are threatening the survival of fish and could deplete the current small stocks.

She called for promotion of fish farming, saying there is need to motivate and encourage investors to embrace aquaculture to ease pressure on the lake and ensure sustainable production of fish in the country. There is also need to introduce more fish species to achieve these goals and support the sector’s growth, she adds.

Mukayiranga called for stringent regulations to deal with unscrupulous fishers who use illegal gears that catch even immature fish.

Achievements

Mukayiranga has no regrets for risking her life on the lake. She has been able to give her children a decent life and send them to good schools, thanks to fishing.

“I have also managed to construct a permanent house for my family using savings from fishing.”

She started with only one fishing boat, but now owns six boats. “This has increased my capacity to catch more fish and improve sales besides providing employment opportunities to more residents,” she noted.

Advice

Mukayiranga advises the fishing community to work responsibly, saying that there is need to understand that without fish their means of livelihood will be threatened.

“That’s why everyone should use recommended fishing methods and gears to safeguard the fish and ensure normal reproduction process in the lake,” she says.

She urges fishing communities to join cooperatives arguing that it is easy to access training and government support in groups. The government should prioritise fish farming to reduce pressure on lakes, she adds.

Future plans

Mukayiranga’s dream is to establish a fish farming project to increase her income and contribute to efforts geared at making the sector more productive and sustainable.

Civil Servants to Lose 25% of Their Salary for Failure to Declare Wealth

Photo: Timothy Kisambira/The New Times

A nurse attends to a patient (file photo).

By Nasra Bishumba

Civil servants obliged by the law to declare their wealth annually but fail to do so will now be penalised with deduction of a quarter of their salary, the Ombudsman announced yesterday.

Delivering the 2016/17 Ombudsman’s report to both chambers of Parliament, Ombudsman Anastase Murekezi said that the measure was directed at giving the issue the attention that it deserves.

Although more than 1,000 public servants have declared their wealth during the last fiscal year, Murekezi said some were not able to. He said other disciplinary measures had been taken.

“In 2016/17, 1,088 declared their wealth. Six people were not able to explain the source of their wealth and were investigated, three files were handed to prosecution, and another three were investigated. The Office of the Ombudsman recommended that 60 people who did not declare their wealth in 2016 are censured,” he said.

Murekezi also told the lawmakers that in the next fiscal year, the Ombudsman’s office expects to receive declarations of 1,500 civil servants and to receive the books of accounts of political parties with explanations on the source of their funding and how it was spent.

To file a case with the Ombudsman’s office, one can use a toll free number, file at sector level or use internet.

In total, complaints received in writing in 2016/17 fiscal year are 226. Of these, land issues top the list with 96 cases, issues related to unsettled court cases are 33; 29 labour and administration issues; issues related to expropriation were 19; issues related to other properties 17; social affairs related issues 17; and other issues 15.

‘New laws needed’

Murekezi also touched on the issue of embezzlement where he said that there was a challenge of going after those suspected of this crime since it was not within his office’s mandate.

“In international law, corruption has a wider meaning than what is in the laws of Rwanda. There is the UN Convention regarding fighting corruption where embezzlement is classified as one of the categories of corruption, something that is different from our national laws. This means that we cannot pursue embezzlers yet it’s in this category where you find the ‘big fish,'” he said.

Murekezi said that to be able to align the international laws with the national ones, the Ombudsman’s office had advised that embezzlement be classified as corruption during the reform of the law on corruption.

MPs raise concerns

Murekezi also reminded MPs that his office had the power to request the Supreme Court to evaluate or even re-try cases that are deemed unjust.

In 2016/17 alone, the Ombudsman’s office ordered that 2,981 cases go to retrial. Among these, 1,934 (64.9 per cent) were carried forward from 2015/16, while 1,047 (35.1 per cent) were new.

When Murekezi said his office would be looking into executing cases that have been pending for long, MP Theoneste Safari Begumisa wondered if the Ombudsman was not encouraging the culture of laxity.

“I would like to know why the Ombudsman’s office is taking on these cases. Isn’t that almost like promoting the culture of laziness? What exactly are courts doing?” he posed.

To this, Murekezi said that his office shared similar sentiment but that the Ombudsman only comes in when the petitioner requests them to.

MP Nura Nikuze asked for a permanent solution to issues that recur in reports.

“The Ombudsman’s report has the same exact problems that we also find on the field when we visit. The issues of contractors who never pay, the issue of expropriation, those of development structures that were erected in citizens’ land and many others are all the same. We need to find a permanent solution once and for all,” she said.

Taken as a Toddler, ‘Orphan’ Reunites With Family

Leonard Sebarinda, now 70-years-old, was haunted for decades by the disappearance of his daughter, a toddler, in the aftermath of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

The last time he saw the child, two-year-old Beata Nyirambabazi, was in 1994 at the Mengeti Orphanage run by Italian priests and nuns in Nyamata, Bugesera.

Confusion

The onset of the genocide in April 1994 saw thousands of Tutsis from most of Bugesera region and the surrounding hills seek refuge at the Nyamata Catholic Church and nearby areas because they thought they would be safe there.

To their shock, the Interahamwe descended on the area and surrounded the church where hundreds of civilians had taken refuge and threw grenades into the church — now a genocide memorial site — leaving no room for anyone to escape.

After the killings were over and the militia had retreated, villagers found little Nyirambabazi alive among the dead bodies. The killers thought she was dead as she lay there. Her mother, twin sister and brother lay dead close by.

Unknown to the villagers, her father was alive, and was hiding in a different location along with his other three children. Well-wishers later took baby Nyirambabazi to a nearby orphanage, named after an Italian priest Mengeti who lived in the area.

According to the local community, there were hundreds of other minors sheltered in the orphanage, rescued from all sorts of places as the killers intensified their slaughter of Tutsis around the Bugesera region.

And it was at the orphanage that her father found her after days of searching for his family which turned up dead except for one baby, whom he confirmed as missing.

He was directed to the orphanage where hundreds of rescued minors were being sheltered.

“I went to the orphanage and I found her. I confirmed that she was indeed my Beata, she even smiled at me when I saw her. I left her there to go plan on how I was going to get her out of the orphanage so that I could take care of her together with her siblings who had survived,” says Sebarinda. I left the orphanage with plans of coming back,” he said.

What he didn’t know however, was that, days later, a number of children, including Nyirambabazi, were flown to Italy, reportedly by some faith-based organisations, charities and individuals who registered them as orphans to be given up for adoption.

A few days later when Sebarinda returned to the orphanage, baby Nyirambabazi was gone.

The search

Sebarinda says his relentless search for a child he saw, touched and confirmed as his own, bore no fruits since no one was forthcoming with information. Not the faith-based organisations or the orphanage.

The family only knew that she had been shipped off to Italy but had no details of where or whom could have taken her in.

Her whereabouts remained unknown to her family for close to 23 years and Sebarinda’s hopes of ever seeing the daughter he last saw as a toddler were fading by the day. The search seemed impossible.

“I kept wondering what would bring her back before I die. I wondered whether it could even be possible for her to come back since we had not received any information about her for a long time despite our inquiries,” narrated the father.

One of Nyirambabazi’s brothers however, made it his life mission to find and bring her home.

The brother, Vincent Twizeyimana, completed his high school education in 2006 and embarked on the search mission for his sister even though he had no clue where to begin.

“I decided to start at the orphanage and I managed to get a few pictures of the group of children she was in when they first arrived in Italy. My father and some members of our family who survived the genocide, separately identified her in the pictures. This removed any doubts that she was taken to Italy and I narrowed down my search to that one child in the picture,” said Twizeyimana.

Shock reaction

It however took him four years to trace her through the orphanage paperwork, and eventually confirmed her given name as Jeanette Chiapello, and obtained her e-mail address through former workers at the orphanage who knew children who had been taken to Italy at the same time as his sister but were lucky to have returned to Rwanda.

However, the reply to the first e-mail he sent her in 2010 was not encouraging. The person who wrote back confirmed that she was of Rwandan origin but was orphaned during the genocide and therefore she could not be the person that Twizeyimana was looking for. She further rejected all notions that anyone in her family was still alive in Rwanda.

“After the initial shock reaction, I kept off, but in 2011, I was bold enough to send her pictures of our father, my other two siblings and I at home. But this time the reaction was even worse. She warned me never to write to her and that I should stop the communication, and she made it clear that it was the last time she was talking to me,” said Twizeyimana of his emotional ordeal.

“I was puzzled by the reaction and had no idea how to proceed. I nevertheless wrote to her three more times and got no reply,” he added.

Facebook

To his surprise, Nyirambabazi got in touch with him early this year, six years later, indicating that she wanted to reconnect with her Rwandan roots and sought detailed information about Twizeyimana’s family. They went on to communicate regularly through Facebook.

“Our Facebook correspondences would start from 11pm to 3pm, while WhatsApp conversations would sometimes last the whole day,” said Twizeyimana.

It was through the social media conversations that the two agreed to do a DNA test to confirm they were indeed related. They each sent DNA samples to the United Kingdom for testing.

They were both thrilled when the DNA results came back positive in August of this year, forcing Nyirambabazi — now a mother of two and married to an Italian man — to make quick plans to travel back to Rwanda to meet the rest of the family.

Homecoming ceremony

Their reunion in October was marked by tears of joy as family, neighbours and friends congregated in an emotional homecoming ceremony at a community hall to welcome a long lost daughter and sister.

The ceremony was marked by dancing, exchanging of gifts and general merrymaking reminiscent of a wedding, to welcome back a member of family lost to them for over two decades.

Accompanied by her husband, Massino Ghersi, Jeanette Chiapello (formerly known as Nyirambabazi) who can only muster a few words in Kinyarwanda, spoke directly to her father for the first time in her life this October, through a translator as she only speaks Italian and a little English.

She narrated that she lived in an orphanage upon arriving in Italy as a toddler in 1994, and later got adopted by an Italian family.

“It took me until when I was an adult to start reflecting on my African roots and biological parents,” she said. Chiapello’s story mirrors that of many minors, some now with families of their own, who in 1994 were taken to Italy, Belgium and France to be adopted by European families.

Although some children later returned following government intervention, quite a number, especially those whose entire families were massacred or had no well-informed relatives to trace them, never returned.

In other instances, adoptive families reportedly make it difficult for Rwandan relatives of such children to get details of their current status. Unconfirmed reports show over 40 of close to 100 children from Bugesera taken to Italy in 1994 never returned, let alone those taken to other foreign destinations. This means there are Rwandans still out there yet to reunite with their families.

For Nyirambabazi, it took 23 years of searching by her family to finally see her come home. Her family now lives in Ntarama, Bugesera district, where she received a communal welcoming ceremony.

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